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History, Symbols, Ceremonies, and more of the Olympic Games

Updated on August 13, 2013

History of the Olympic Games

The Olympics originated in Greece in the year 776 BC and its come a long way since to its next avatar in 2012. Traditionally the games are held every four years. Originally the 5 city states of Athens, Argos, Corinth, Megara and Sparta were the main competitors. The sports which were competed in were inspired by the 12 Tasks of Hercules.

The games included the Pythian Games, Nemean Games and Isthmian Games. They were collectively called the Panhellenic Games. Priests presided over the ceremonies that were held to invoke Zeus and Pelops. The games were held in honor of the gods.

The games went on uninterrupted till the 4th Century BC when the Romans came and plundered the Greek Temples and countryside. The ancient sports meet in which young warriors met to show off their prowess were then effectively ended under the expansion plans of the Roman Empire.

The modern avatar of the Olympic games was revived by France. In 1796 A.D. France came up with an annual sports meet, and this quickly gained popularity internationally. It was in 1859 A.D. that the first modern Olympics were hosted by Athens and other nations soon began to send their athletes to compete in the popular sporting event.

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Olympic Sports

The traditional games were just one day old, but as the number of races and sporting events began to increase the duration went up to five days. In the ancient Olympics the most popular event was the Pentathlon. This was a single man competition involving five sporting events such as running, jumping, wrestling, discus throwing, and javelin throwing.

Another rather dangerous and popular ancient sport was the Pankration which was a combination of boxing and wrestling. In the older days the games were just as symbolic, and entertaining as they are today. However they also had a religious angle which is not quite as prominent today.A huge statute of Zeus would usually preside over the games.

As the number of sporting events went up there was a need to distinguish those sports which could be played in winter and those which were exclusively in the summer domain. It is Sweden who hosted the first Nordic Games in 1901 laying the foundation for the Winter Olympics. When the summer Olympics were hosted in 1912 in Stockholm, they included four figure skating events.

Over the years the events of winter sporting kept adding on to the summer Olympics. The 1924 Games in Chamonix, France are now cited as the official first Winter Olympics.The Winter Olympics are now held every four years as well. However they are held two years after the Summer Olympics and at a different venue.

The Olympic Flag
The Olympic Flag | Source

Symbols of the Olympics

There are three primary symbols of the Olympics

1. The Olympic Rings

The five different colored rings are on the Olympic Flag that is hoisted at the games venue. The rings are intertwined and have the colors blue, yellow, black, green and red. The background is white. The rings are said to represent the five populated continents. If you say there are six continent that are populated, you must consider that North and South America are taken as one continent.

2. The Olympic Flame

The flame was a symbol of the ancient Olympics which were held for the pleasure of the Gods. Traditionally the eleven Vestal Virgins would light the torch in a ceremony using the sun's rays and a parabolic mirror. It was reintroduced in the modern Olympics in the 1928 games. The relays which sees the flame travel all over the five continents however began even later with the 1936 Berlin summer games in Germany.

3. The Olympic Motto

The Olympic Motto is “Citius, Altius, Fortius” or Faster, Higher, Stronger! This is the Olympic creed that each participant lives with. Each athlete who competes in the Olympic games is not just competing with the others in the sport but also against himself. Some of the best personal performances of the athletes come at the Olympics Games.

An additional symbol has been added per city that has hosted the Olympics and this is the Olympic Mascot. At times there have been more than one mascot for a single Olympic Game. The mascot for the London Olympics in 2012 is Wenlock who is supposed to be a one eyes drop of steel. Named for the Shropshire town of Much Wenlock. The mascot for the Para Olympics is to be another one eyed drop of steel called Mandeville, after Stoke Mandeville, a village in Buckinghamshire.

London Olympics Mascots

Wenlock and Mandeville
Wenlock and Mandeville | Source

Olympic Ceremonies

There are essentially three ceremonies conducted during the Olympic Games.

1. Opening Ceremony

The hosting nation will usually showcase its talent in the opening ceremony. It begins with the hoisting of the national flag followed by the national anthem. It is then followed by the performing artists who usually follow a theme. Then the athletes who will be participating in the games come out.

The parade is organized with country clusters and is usually alphabetic in order. The only exception is Greece who leads the parade. There is Olympic oath, the lighting of the Olympic Lamp and the declaration of the games open!

2. Medal Presentation or Victory Ceremonies

The end of each sporting event finale is followed by the medal distribution or victory ceremony. Gold for the first, Silver for the runner up and Bronze for the second runner up is the norm. The national anthem of the winner of the gold medal is also played at the Victory Ceremony. 805 Victory Ceremonies will be conducted all over the UK during the London Olympics in 2012.

3. Closing Ceremony

The closing ceremony includes another round of performances from the host country, the returning parade of athletes, some speeches and the dousing of the Olympic Flame. The ceremony includes the handing over to the next host as well. This means that the Mayor of the next hosting city will receive the Olympic Flag as it is brought down. London will hand over to Rio.

Sporting Events for the Para Olympics

20 Games will be featured in the Para Olympics. These include

Paralympic Archery
Paralympic Athletics
Paralympic Cycling – Road
Paralympic Cycling – Track
Paralympic Equestrian
Football 5-a-side
Football 7-a-side
Paralympic Judo
Paralympic Rowing
Paralympic Sailing
Paralympic Shooting
Paralympic Swimming
Paralympic Table Tennis
Sitting Volleyball
Wheelchair Basketball
Wheelchair Fencing
Wheelchair Rugby
Wheelchair Tennis

Ancient Laurels

Horseshoe shaped wreaths made out of Olives or Laurel leaves were placed on the winners of the ancient Olympic games.

There were no gold, silver or bronze medals for these athletes.

In fact that is where the term resting on your laurels comes from. A person who won a laurel wreath at one event and did not do so at the next was said to be resting on his laurels.

Sporting events for the Summer Olympics

26 sports are usually part of the Summer Olympics. These include .

Beach Volleyball
Canoe Slalom
Canoe Sprint
Cycling – BMX
Cycling – Mountain Bike
Cycling – Road
Cycling – Track
Equestrian – Dressage
Equestrian – Eventing
Equestrian – Jumping
Gymnastics – Artistic
Gymnastics – Rhythmic
Gymnastics – Trampoline
Modern Pentathlon
Synchronised Swimming
Table Tennis
Water Polo

New and Old

When a country hosts the Olympics it is not known by the name of the country but by the name of the host city. For instance when China hosted the Olympics last, it was called the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

A number of new venues were constructed in China for the Olympic Games. Some of the architecture was amazingly spectacular. Hosting the Olympics is the ideal time for a nation to showcase its talent in a number of fields.


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